Did you know that there is actually some law and order in the madcap world of clowning? Well it’s true, we have a chain of command as it were as to who is the top dog and who is the brunt of all the jokes. We’re going to share a little insight into the old clown alley and as to why this order is in place, so if you’re not careful you might just learn a thing or two.
Some basic principals of comedy have been followed for centuries; make fun of the powers that be, laugh at the buffoon in a awkward situation and be glad that someone out there is more embarrassing than you. A couple of prime examples of a perfect comedy team are the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges. Both troupes have the recipe for laughter, the boss directing the buffoonery (Groucho and Moe) the half wit trouble maker (Chico and Larry) then the poor nit wit that always gets everyone in a jam (Harpo and Curly). The three character types lend themselves to the comedy ensemble that has kept people laughing since early Greek theater. The boss can be looked at as the authority figure we all want to thumb our noses and rebel against despite the consequence. The half wit often represents the common man trying to do the right thing but some how screwing it up along the way. The bottom rung is the poor soul who just never seems to catch a break and often gets blamed for everyone else’s mistakes. This comedy formula of having a boss, a middle man and a comic foil was adopted into clowning and helps define the three types of clowns; White face, Auguste and Tramp.
*Here is a closer look into the clown alley.
This is the ring leader of the clowns, always of neat appearance from makeup to wardrobe, often presenting the illusion of intellect. You will find the white face is the clown that has a nice wardrobe neat and tidy with complimentary patterns and colors, presents the look of authority. Our white face often sets up the comic skits and while performing will be the one to pull off a trick or stunt without a hitch. Not to say the white face is not a goofball and things don’t go wrong, just typically the one to look less ridiculous than his or her counterparts. Think of Moe, still a stooge in comparison to people around him, but more in control than Larry or Curly. We will often see the white face performing very good magic, shoving a pie in someones face and even acting as MC for other acts.
Auguste: Pronounced Aww-goost.
This lovable boob is our middleman, getting ordered around by the white face and typically making mischief. The makeup is more outlandish using a pink flesh tone and over exaggerated features to display a look of moderate intelligence. The wardrobe is usually a mixture of patterns yet still has uniformity and clothes will often be over sized or too small. The auguste will often carry out the punchline of the skit set by the white face, also displays talent when performing a trick or stunt but usually will have a few goof ups trying to achieve them. Showing characteristics of childish behavior, the auguste often will try to sabotage the white face in retaliation for being bossed around. In a circus setting the auguste is often very acrobatic or at the least displays great talent as a physical comic.
Hanging out at the bottom rung of the clown ladder is the tramp, often representing someone of high society who has fallen on hard times. This being the only American born clown surfaced out of the depression era as we saw people of great wealth turned to paupers from the stock market crash leaving them with nothing but the clothes on their backs, this is why we often see tramps in suits or tuxedos that are nothing but rags. The makeup is the most human looking of the three clowns with a sun weathered complexion and beard or five o’ clock shadow, female have introduced a bag lady look to the tramp category. The tramp usually ends up with the pie in the face or sprayed with the seltzer water but often wins the heart of the audience in the end with endearing act of kindness. An alternate personality is the Happy Hobo who is more care free and can take on some of the character traits of the auguste.
Now that you have a glimpse behind the curtain you can see that there is a method to our madness and all three clown types serve a specific purpose in the grand scheme of things.